Hadzabe people



The Hadza, or Hadzabe, are an indigenous ethnic group in north-central Tanzania, living around Lake Eyasi in the central Rift Valley and in the neighboring Serengeti Plateau. There are, as of 2015, between 1,200 and 1,300 Hadza people living in Tanzania, although the increasing impact of tourism and encroaching pastoralists pose serious threats to the continuation of their traditional way of life.

Genetically, the Hadza are not closely related to any other people. While traditionally classified with the Khoisan languages, primarily because it has clicks, the Hadza language appears to be an isolate, unrelated to any other. As descendants of Tanzania's aboriginal hunter-gatherer population, they have probably occupied their current territory for thousands of years, with relatively little modification to their basic way of life until the past hundred years.

Since the 18th century, the Hadza have come into increasing contact with farming and herding people entering Hadzaland and its vicinity; the interactions were often hostile and caused population decline in the late 19th century. The first European contact and written accounts of the Hadza are from the late 19th century. Since then, there have been many attempts by successive colonial administrations, the independent Tanzanian government, and foreign missionaries to settle the Hadza, by introducing farming and Christianity. These efforts have largely failed, and many Hadza still pursue virtually the same way of life as their ancestors are described as having in early 20th-century accounts. In recent years, they have been under pressure from neighbouring groups encroaching on their land, and also have been affected by tourism and safari hunting.

Oral tradition

The Hadza's oral history of their own past is divided into four epochs, each inhabited by a different culture. According to this tradition, in the beginning of time, the world was inhabited by hairy giants called the Akakaanebe or Gelanebe, "ancestors". The Akakaanebe did not possess tools or fire; they hunted game by staring at it and it fell dead; they ate the meat raw. They did not build houses but slept under trees, as the Hadza do today in the dry season. In older versions of this story, fire was not used because it was physically impossible in the earth's primeval state, while younger Hadza, who have been to school, say that the Akakaanebe simply did not know how.

In the second epoch, the Akakaanebe were succeeded by the Tlaatlanebe, equally gigantic but without hair. Fire could be made and used to cook meat, but animals had grown more wary of humans and had to be chased and hunted with dogs. The Tlaatlanebe were the first people to use medicines and charms to protect themselves from enemies and initiated the epeme rite. They lived in caves.

The third epoch was inhabited by the Hamakwabe "nowadays", who were smaller than their predecessors. They invented bows and arrows, and containers for cooking, and mastered the use of fire. They also built houses like those of Hadza today. The Hamakwabe were the first of the Hadza's ancestors to have contact with non-foraging people, with whom they traded for iron to make knives and arrowheads. The Hamakwabe also invented the gambling game lukuchuko.

The fourth epoch continues today and is inhabited by the Hamaishonebe, "modern". When discussing the Hamaishonebe epoch, people often mention specific names and places, and can approximately say how many generations ago events occurred.

Archaeology and genetic history

The Hadza are not closely related to any other people. The Hadza language was once classified with the Khoisan languages because it has clicks; however, since there is no evidence they are related, Hadza is now considered an isolate. Genetically, the Hadza do not appear to be particularly closely related to Khoisan speakers: even the Sandawe, who live just 150 kilometres (93 mi) away, diverged from the Hadza more than 15,000 years ago. Genetic testing also suggests significant admixture has occurred between the Hadza and Bantu, while minor admixture with the Nilotic and Cushitic-speaking populations has occurred in the last few thousand years. Today, a few Hadza women marry into neighbouring groups such as the Bantu Isanzu and the Nilotic Datoga, but these marriages often fail and the woman and her children return to the Hadza. In previous decades, rape or capture of Hadza women by outsiders seems to have been common. During a famine in 1918–20 some Hadza men were reported as taking Isanzu wives.

The Hadza's ancestors have probably lived in their current territory for tens of thousands of years. Hadzaland is just 50 kilometres (31 mi) from Olduvai Gorge, an area sometimes called the "Cradle of Mankind" because of the number of hoinin fossils found there, and 40 kilometres (25 mi) from the prehistoric site of Laetoli. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been continuously occupied by hunter gatherers much like the Hadza since at least the beginning of the Later Stone Age, 50,000 years ago. It is possible that their oral history, mentioned above, recalls earlier hominins and such as Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo sapiens idaltu. Although the Hadza do not make rock art today, they consider several rock art sites within their territory, probably at least 2,000 years old, to have been created by their ancestors, and their oral history does not suggest they moved to Hadzaland from elsewhere.

Precolonial period

Until about 500 BCE, Tanzania was exclusively occupied by hunter-gatherers akin to the Hadza. The first agriculturalists to enter the region were Cushitic-speaking cattle herders from the Horn of Africa. Around 500 CE the Bantu expansion reached Tanzania, bringing populations of farmers with iron tools and weapons. The last major ethnic group to enter the region were Nilotic pastoralists who migrated south from Sudan in the 18th century. Each of these expansions of farming and herding peoples displaced earlier populations of hunter-gatherers, who would have generally been at a demographic and technological disadvantage, and vulnerable to the loss of environment resources (i.e., foraging areas and habitats for game) as a result of the spread of farmland and pastures. Therefore, groups such as the Hadza and the Sandawe are remnants of indigenous hunter-gatherer populations that were once much more widespread, and are under pressure from the continued expansion of agriculture into areas which they have traditionally occupied.

Farmers and herders appeared in the vicinity of Hadzaland relatively recently. The pastoralist Iraqw and Datoga were both forced to migrate into the area by the expansion of the Maasai, the former in the 19th century and the latter in the 1910s. The Isanzu, a Bantu farming people, began living just south of Hadzaland around 1850. The Hadza also have contact with the Maasai and the Sukuma west of Lake Eyasi. The Hadza's interaction with many of these peoples has been hostile. In particular, the upheavals caused by the Maasai expansion in the late 19th century caused a decline in the Hadza population. Pastoralists often killed Hadza as reprisals for the "theft" of livestock, since the Hadza did not have the notion of animal ownership, and would hunt them as they would wild game.

The Isanzu were also hostile to the Hadza at times, and may have captured them for the slave trade until as late as the 1870s (when it was halted by the German colonial government). Later interaction was more peaceable, with the two peoples sometimes intermarrying and residing together, though as late as 1912, the Hadza are reported as being "ready for war" with the Isanzu. The Sukuma and the Hadza also had a more amiable relationship; the Sukuma drove their herds and salt caravans through Hadza lands, and exchanged old metal tools, which the Hadza made into arrowheads, for the right to hunt elephants in Hadzaland. The general attitude of neighbouring agro-pastoralists towards the Hadza was prejudicial; they viewed them as backwards, not possessing a "real language", and made up of the dispossessed of neighbouring tribes that had fled into the forest out of poverty or because they committed a crime. Many of these misconceptions were transmitted to early colonial visitors to the region who wrote about the Hadza.

20th century

In the late 19th century, European powers claimed much of the African continent as colonies, a period known as the Scramble for Africa. The Hadza became part of German East Africa, though at the time the colony was proclaimed there is no evidence that Hadzaland had ever been visited by Europeans. The earliest mention of the Hadza in a written account is in German explorer Oscar Baumann's Durch Massailand zur Nilquelle (1894). The Hadza hid from Baumann and other early explorers, and their descriptions are based on second hand accounts.

The first Europeans to report actually meeting the Hadza are Otto Dempwolff and Erich Obst. The latter lived with them for eight weeks in 1911. German Tanganyika came under British control at the end of the First World War (1917), and soon after the Hadza were written about by British colonial officer F. J. Bagshawe. The accounts of these early European visitors portray the Hadza at the beginning of the 20th century as living in much the same way as they do today. Early on Obst noted a distinction between the 'pure' Hadza (that is, those subsisting purely by hunting and gathering) and those that lived with the Isanzu and practised some cultivation.

The foraging Hadza exploited the same foods using many of the same techniques they do today, though game was more plentiful because farmers had not yet begun directly encroaching on their lands. Some early reports describe the Hadza as having chiefs or big men, but they were probably mistaken; more reliable accounts portray early 20th century Hadza as egalitarian, as they are today. They also lived in similarly sized camps, used the same tools, built houses in the same style and had similar religious beliefs.

The foraging Hadza exploited the same foods using many of the same techniques they do today, though game was more plentiful because farmers had not yet begun directly encroaching on their lands. Some early reports describe the Hadza as having chiefs or big men, but they were probably mistaken; more reliable accounts portray early 20th century Hadza as egalitarian, as they are today. They also lived in similarly sized camps, used the same tools, built houses in the same style and had similar religious beliefs.

The British colonial government tried to make the Hadza settle down and adopt farming in 1927, the first of many government attempts to settle them. The British tried again in 1939, as did the independent Tanzanian government in 1965 and 1990, and various foreign missionary groups since the 1960s. Although many attempts were forceful, they by and large failed; generally the Hadza willingly settle and take advantage of provided food, but leave and return to foraging when the food runs out; few have adopted farming. Another problem is disease – because their communities are sparse and isolated, few Hadza are immune to common infectious diseases such as measles, which thrive in sedentary communities, and several settlement attempts ended with outbreaks of illness resulting in many deaths, particularly of children.

Of the four villages built for the Hadza since 1965, two (Yaeda Chini and Munguli) are now inhabited by the Isanzu, Iraqw and Datoga. Another, Mongo wa Mono, established in 1988, is sporadically occupied by Hadza groups who stay there for a few months at a time, either farming, foraging or taking advantage of food given to them by missionaries. At the fourth village, Endamagha (also known as Mwonyembe), the school is attended by Hadza children, but they account for just a third of the students there. Numerous attempts to convert the Hadza to Christianity have also been largely unsuccessful.

Tanzanian farmers began moving into the Mangola area to grow onions in the 1940s, but came in small numbers until the 1960s. The first German plantation in Hadzaland was established in 1928, and later three European families have settled in the area. Since the 1960s, the Hadza have been visited regularly by anthropologists, linguists, geneticists and other researchers.


In recent years, the Hadza's territory has seen increasing encroachment from neighbouring peoples. The western Hadza lands are on a private hunting reserve, and the Hadza are officially restricted to a reservation within the reserve and prohibited from hunting there. The Yaeda Valley, long uninhabited due to the tsetse fly, is now occupied by Datooga herders; the Datooga are clearing the Hadza lands on either side of the now fully settled valley for pasture for their goats and cattle. They hunt out the game, and the clearing destroys the berries, tubers, and honey that the Hadza rely on, and watering holes for their cattle cause the shallow watering holes the Hadza rely on to dry up. Most Hadzabe are no longer able to sustain themselves in the bush without supplementary food such as ugali.

After documentaries on the Hadza on PBS and the BBC in 2001, the Mang'ola Hadza have become a tourist attraction. Although on the surface this may appear to help the Hadzabe, much of the money from tourism is allocated by government offices and tourism companies rather than going to the Hadzabe. Money given directly to Hadzabe also contributes to alcoholism and deaths from alcohol poisoning have recently become a severe problem, further contributing to the loss of cultural knowledge.

In 2007, the local government controlling the Hadza lands adjacent to the Yaeda Valley leased the entire 6,500 square kilometres (2,500 sq mi) of land to the Al Nahyan royal family of the United Arab Emirates for use as a "personal safari playground". Both the Hadza and Datooga were evicted, with some Hadza resisters imprisoned. However, after protests from the Hadza and negative coverage in the international press, the deal was rescinded.

Social structure

The Hadza are organized into bands, called 'camps' in the literature, of typically 20–30 people, though camps of over a hundred may form during berry season. There is no tribal or other governing hierarchy, and conflict may be resolved by one of the parties voluntarily moving to another camp. Ernst Fehr and Urs Fischbacher point out that the Hadza people “exhibit a considerable amount of altruistic punishment” to organize these tribes. The Hadza live in a communal setting and engage in cooperative child rearing, where many individuals (both related and unrelated) provide high quality care for children.

The Hadza move camp for a number of reasons. Conflict is resolved primarily by leaving camp; camps frequently split for this reason. Camps are abandoned when someone falls ill and dies, as illness is associated with the place they fell ill. There is also seasonal migration between dry-season refuges, better hunting grounds while water is more abundant, and areas with large numbers of tubers or berry trees when they are in season. If a man kills a particularly large animal such as a giraffe far from home, a camp will temporarily relocate to the kill site (smaller animals are brought back to the camp). Shelters can be built in a few hours, and most of the possessions owned by an individual can be carried on their backs.

The Hadza are predominantly monogamous, though there is no social enforcement of monogamy. While men and women value traits such as hard work when evaluating for partners, they also value physical attractiveness. In fact, many of their preferences for attractiveness, such as symmetry, averageness and sexually dimorphic voice pitch are similar to preferences found in Western nations.

Anthropological studies on the Hadza in the 20th century found them to have an average life expectancy of 33 at birth for both men and women. Life expectancy at age 20 was 39 and the infant mortality rate was 21%.


Hadza men usually forage individually, and during the course of the day usually feed themselves while foraging, and also bring home some honey, fruit, or wild game when available. Women forage in larger parties, and usually bring home berries, baobab fruit, and tubers, depending on availability. Men and women also forage cooperatively for honey and fruit, and at least one adult male will usually accompany a group of foraging women. During the wet season, the diet is composed mostly of honey, some fruit, tubers, and occasional meat. The contribution of meat to the diet increases in the dry season, when game become concentrated around sources of water. During this time, men often hunt in pairs, and spend entire nights lying in wait by waterholes, hoping to shoot animals that approach for a night-time drink, with bows and arrows treated with poison. The poison is made of the branches of the shrub Adenium coetaneum. The Hadza are highly skilled, selective, and opportunistic foragers, and adjust their diet according to season and circumstance. Depending on local availability, some groups might rely more heavily on tubers, others on berries, others on meat. This variability is the result of their opportunism and adjustment to prevailing conditions.

Traditionally, the Hadza do not make use of hunting dogs, although this custom has been recently borrowed from neighboring tribes to some degree. Most men (80%+) do not use dogs when foraging.

Women's foraging technology includes the digging stick, grass baskets for carrying berries, large fabric or skin pouches for carrying items, knives, shoes, other clothing, and various small items held in a pouch around the neck. Men carry axes, bows, poisoned and non-poisoned arrows, knives, small honey pots, fire drills, shoes and apparel, and various small items.

While men specialize in procuring meat, honey, and baobab fruit, women specialize in tubers, berries, and greens. This division of labor is rather apparent, but women will occasionally gather a small animal or egg, or gather honey, and men will occasionally bring a tuber or some berries back to camp.

A myth depicts a woman harvesting the honey of wild bees, and at the same time, it declares that the job of honey harvesting belongs to the men. For harvesting honey or fruit from large trees such as the baobab, the Hadza beat pointed sticks into the trunk of the tree as ladders. This technique is depicted in a tale, and it is also documented in film.

There exists a dynamic relationship of mutualism and manipulation between a wild bird, the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator) and the Hadza. In order to obtain wax, the bird guides people to the nests of wild bees (i.e. Apis mellifera). Hadza men whistle, strike trees, and sometimes shout to attract and keep the attention of the honeyguide. The bird also calls to attract the honey-hunter, using a distinctive chatter. Once the honey-hunter has located the bee nest, he uses smoke to subdue the bees, and his axe to chop into the tree and open the bee nest. The honey hunter eats or carries away most of the liquid honey, and the honeyguide consumes beeswax that may be left adhering to the tree, or which has been spit out or otherwise discarded at the site of acquisition. In many cases, instead of actively feeding the honeyguide, Hadza men burn, bury, or hide the wax that remains at the harvest site, in order to keep the honeyguide hungry, and more likely to guide again. The honeyguide also appears in Hadza mythology, both in naturalistic and personified forms. Honey represents a substantial portion of the Hadza diet (~10-20% of calories) and is an important food for many hunter-gatherer societies living in the tropics. The increased consumption of bee products contributed to an improvement in the energy density of the human diet during evolution.